Third presidential debate transcript: President Barack Obama on Libya and the changing landscape in the Middle East

Transcribed and edited by Jenny Jiang

Excerpts from the third and final presidential debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida on Oct. 22, 2012

Transcript of President Barack Obama’s remarks on Libya and the changing landscape in the Middle East:

Moderator Bob Schieffer:

The first segment is the challenge of a changing Middle East and the new face of terrorism…

The first question concerns Libya. The controversy over what happened there continues. Four Americans are dead, including an American Ambassador. Questions remain of what happened, what caused it, was it spontaneous, was it an intelligence failure, was it a policy failure, was there an attempt to mislead people about what really happened.

Gov. Romney, you’ve said that this was an example of an American policy in the Middle East that is unraveling before our very eyes. I’d like to hear each of you give your thoughts on that.

President Barack Obama: 

Well, my first job as commander-in-chief, Bob, is to keep the American people safe and that’s what we’ve done over the last 4 years.

We ended the war on Iraq, refocused our attention on those who actually killed us on 9/11. And as a consequence, Al Qaeda’s core leadership has been decimated.

In addition, we’re now able to transition out of Afghanistan in a responsible way, making sure that Afghans take responsibility for their own security.

And that allows us also to rebuild alliances and make friends around the world to combat future threats.

Now, with respect to Libya, as I indicated in the last debate, when we received that phone call, I immediately made sure that number 1, we did everything we could to secure those Americans who were still in harm’s way; number 2, that we would investigate exactly what happened; and number 3, most importantly, that we would go after those who killed Americans and we would bring them to justice and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

But I think it’s important to step back and think about what happened in Libya. Keep in mind that I and Americans took leadership in organizing an international coalition that made sure that we were able to – without putting troops on the ground at the cost of less than what we spent in two weeks in Iraq – liberate a country that had been under the yoke of dictatorship for 40 years, got rid of a despot who had killed Americans. And as a consequence, despite this tragedy, you had tens of thousands of Libyans after the events of Benghazi marching and saying, “America’s our friend. We stand with them.” Now, that represents the opportunity we have to take advantage of.

And, you know, Gov. Romney, I’m glad that you agree that we have been successful in going after Al Qaeda but I have to tell you that your strategy previously has been one that’s been all over the map and is not designed to keep Americans safe or to build on the opportunities that exist in the Middle East.


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